October 2020
Leaders in the Field:
Profiles from the Pandemic

Celebrating Exceptional Leadership and
Codifying Lessons Learned
During Unprecedented Times
In alignment with our value of mutual support, Leaders in The Field: Profiles from the Pandemic is offered as a resource to share wisdom, experience and creative responses to an ever-changing nonprofit landscape rocked by COVID-19.

An extension of our monthly Leaders in the Field publication, the next three editions will feature some of the leadership frameworks used by members of the Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego as they have led through these unprecedented days.
Introduced by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Adaptive Leadership is a framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt and thrive in challenging environments.

It is most effective when there are no easy solutions available and requires one to be able, both individually and collectively, to take on the gradual but meaningful process of change. It is about diagnosing the essential from the expendable and bringing about a real challenge to the status quo.  
It’s a critical skill for anyone looking for systematic changes in an increasingly complex world.
Adaptive leaders cultivate a diversity of viewpoints in order to generate a large number of options. They lead with empathy, reward their employees’ performance with autonomy and independence and find winning solutions for all stakeholders. (toolshero 8/17)
Profiles in Adaptive Leadership
Serge Dedina

“You have to learn to expect and adapt to significant change on a daily basis”


BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: Working on international conservation and climate change is more relevant and important than ever and adaptive leadership is necessary to respond to these ever-evolving crises

ON THE FUTURE: His biggest hope lies in the resiliency of his staff

Learning Group Graduate

Kent Lee

“The magic of what we do is to bring people together”


BIGGEST TAKEAWAY: Remembering that it takes people to run programs and to set realistic expectations during times of great change

ON THE FUTURE: The use of technology to bring more people together in cost-effective and time-efficient manners opens new opportunities

Learning Group & Leadership Reading Group Graduate
Brandon Steppe

“Listening to the people around you, as a leader, is everything”  


Grounding decisions in the organization’s core foundation of unconditional love provides direction in times of uncertainty 

ON THE FUTURE: He hopes to continue the increased communication and personal wellness practices that he has adopted

Learning Group Member
Continue reading for more on our featured leaders!
The pandemic arrived on the tails of an extensive team building effort at WILDCOAST, an international organization focused on ocean and coastal conservation as well as addressing climate change through natural solutions, led by Co-Founder and Executive Director Serge Dedina, PhD. The result of this effort, “a strong, vibrant team,” bolstered Serge’s adaptive leadership as he worked to acclimate his organization to the storm of COVID-19. With staff in four different offices and in two different countries, “they would have been in a very different place,” according to Serge, if they had not recently re-structured to give staff more responsibility.

As an agency focused on environmental conservation and natural climate solutions, WILDCOAST staff spend considerable time conducting direct field-based activities. One of their biggest challenges was having to pivot to virtual work – both organizationally and personally, as most members of the staff thrive on working outdoors and in the community. In response, WILDCOAST has found creative ways to get back to the field safely with new protocols designed to allow for some team members to conduct projects in remote and rural areas on both sides of the border. To continue their work educating students and community members, WILDCOAST created a virtual MPA Floating Laboratory that brings marine experiments and coastal tours to the students, instead of bringing the students to the coast.

Serge used nature as his guide in dealing with this crisis, understanding how the pandemic represents the interconnectedness of our environmental health to other issues, including equity, physical health and mental wellbeing. He outlined a clear vision for his staff and board and made specific efforts to provide a safety net for staff in Mexico, who may not have the same level of access to the health care system and social services as their counterparts in the U.S. His commitment to keeping everyone employed and to providing a clear vision of how WILDCOAST was going to respond, gave comfort to his team in an era of great uncertainty.

With a generative mindset, Serge prepared his team for the unexpected by investing in their skills and increasing each of their responsibilities within the organization, which allowed them to pivot quickly to address the conditions COVID-19 presented. Work was adjusted, employees were supported through a challenging time, and the organization remains a vital steward of our shared ocean environment.
As if dealing with COVID-19 was not a big enough challenge for Kent Lee, Executive Director of Pacific Arts Movement, he and his organization also stepped up to take a major role in addressing the increased racism, xenophobia, and violence towards Asian Pacific Islander communities that came with the pandemic. “We’ve built a platform over the years that connects community organizations in San Diego, especially those serving Asian Pacific Islander communities,” said Kent in describing how he called on those connections to come together and “speak in one voice” to address the increased hatred toward Asians and Pacific Islanders (API). Together with a coalition of partner organizations, Pacific Arts Movement released a statement sponsored by over 70 organizations - condemning hatred directed at API communities and other marginalized communities.

While pushing forward on social justice issues through the San Diego API Coalition that was formed as part of the efforts for the statement, Kent and Pacific Arts Movement also had to get back to the work of sharing stories through film from around the world. They moved screenings online and forged new connections through virtual Q&A sessions. Although the virtual program sacrificed some of the magic of the personal experience, it still allowed for collaborative engagement. 

The team at Pacific Arts Movement has also had to figure out how to work together virtually. Kent learned early on to set realistic expectations during this time of uncertainty and fluidity. He trusted his staff with the autonomy and flexibility they needed to successfully navigate the changing work environment. Leading through the challenges of the last several months has reminded Kent that compassion is at the core of his organization’s mission—compassion both for the people that run the programs and for the community that comes together to experience them however they are presented.

Adaptability for Kent has meant transforming how his organization meets its mission, be it through new technology or by using its voice in a new way to combat hatred. In a time of unrest and uncertainty, the mission of Pacific Arts movement has not changed even if how its met has—they continue to share stories, create community, promote art, and inspire positive social change. 
When Brandon Steppe the Founder and Executive Director of The David’s Harp Foundation, learned that schools would be closing their doors due to COVID-19, he immediately started looking for new ways to support the children and families that his organization serves. The mission of The David’s Harp Foundation is to “inspire, educate and empower youth to achieve academic success through music education, sound engineering and multimedia production.” Relationships and trust are at the core of this mission. Brandon understood that he wouldn’t be able to interact artistically with the youth in his program without first meeting their basic needs—this meant helping kids transition from homelessness, buying groceries, phone call check-ins, agency-planned movie nights, and much more. He also recognized that his clients would need access to virtual learning in order to participate in school and that he wouldn’t be able to encourage young people academically if they didn’t have it. So, the David’s Harp team worked with the Juvenile Detention facility to facilitate and deploy remote learning options for students there.

At the same time as David’s Harp was adapting to meet these basic needs, Brandon and his team had to find creative ways to get their music programs running safely. For many organizations, this meant completely transitioning to zoom or other video conferencing platforms. Brandon recognized that this would not work for the youth at David’s Harp, many of whom don’t have access to high-speed internet or were experiencing zoom fatigue from on-line school. Instead, he and his staff met kids where they were comfortable, using Instagram and Tik Tok to communicate and connect.

If there was one thing that Brandon would have done differently, he would have leaned even more into personal connections that are at the foundation of David’ Harp. In early March he was so focused on how to keep the studio open that he feels he missed opportunities to be present to the people around him. Brandon would rather be “responding to people, not to circumstances.” Even so, it was their focus on the core mission of unconditional love that propelled Brandon and David’s Harp through a time of great uncertainty. The myriad of challenges that COVID brought could have been crippling, but with the guiding light of love for the young people they serve at the center of all their decisions, the path forward for Brandon and David’s Harp remained clear.  
Thank You to our Network Members...
Our thanks to each of our profiled leaders for taking the time during stress-filled days to share their experiences in hopes of supporting others as they lead. 
Thank you Nathan!
Interviews were conducted by our summer intern, Nathan Burns. We are grateful for his work on this project. 

Interviews were conducted in July 2020 and reflect learnings and activities through that time.
Next Month's Feature: Decisive Leaders